The Silk Road, that ancient trade route connecting China to Europe, is being revived—this time, around higher education. In the framework of the massive “One Belt, One Road” project, China recently launched the Universities Alliance of the New Silk Road, an international higher education platform that will connect at least 60 universities located roughly along the ex-Silk route. The idea behind the project is to encourage joint research, partnerships, and student exchanges among these universities, capitalising on their commonalities. The hub and main partner will be Xi’an Jiaotong University, located in the Shanxi province, where the inauguration of the Alliance took place on 22 May.
The initiative comes in the framework of China’s ambitious “One Belt, One Road” project, which focuses on connectivity and economic cooperation (mainly) in Eurasia. According to the blueprint released on March 2015, the five major goals of “One Belt, One Road” are “policy coordination, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and people-to-people bonds.” Although collaboration in higher education is not specified in the document, its relevance to these major goals is undeniable. If the area along the old Silk Route is to become the successful regional economy China wants it to be, cross-border academic cooperation is key. It might have been in recognition of this fact that in March, China announced it would provide 10 000 scholarships annually to countries along the Belt and Road to promote education cooperation. What is clear is that with the Universities Alliance, higher education is now squarely on the table as one of the mechanisms to achieve greater integration and cooperation in the area.
The “One Belt, One Road” initiative is backed by USD 40 billion (EUR 35 billion) in funding from the recently created Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the New Silk Road Fund. It is unclear to what extent the Universities Alliance will benefit from these funds, or how these would be allocated. Until this is determined, we can only speculate as to the actual, projected impact of the Alliance. Will it go beyond good intentions and crystallise into actual joint projects?
Press release from the State Council Information Office of PR, China (in Chinese)
One Belt, One Road blueprint (National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), PR of China)
University World News